Food + DrinkReview
Cast iron – it’s needy and unruly but still my number one
Why on earth would I want to use a frying pan that takes a long time to heat up, makes food stick to it and can’t be cleaned properly? It’s a no-brainer really. With a bit of practice and the right care, cast iron pans give you the best crusts and juiciest chunks, whether you’re cooking meat or genuine Swiss rösti.
The secret to cast iron pans is in their thermal storage and the way they radiate heat. Conventional, coated steel pans don’t send the heat very far. In fact, it fizzles out just a few millimetres above the surface. That’s unlike cast iron pans, where the heat even reaches the inside of your food. This means your rösti gets a nice crust on the outside and is warm on the inside.
Another benefit of cast iron frying pans is how efficiently they conduct heat. In other words, you don’t always have to whack the stove up at full blast. The downside, of course, is that it takes longer to reach temperature. You’ll need to wait at least ten minutes before you can start frying. But once you get going, cast iron pans store heat much longer and more evenly than traditional steel pans.
Seasoning cast iron so it doesn’t burn
When you’re using cast iron pans like Kuhn Rikon’s Blackstar, you can’t just start frying. These pans first have to build up a type of natural non-stick coating – known as the patina or seasoning, if you’re feeling technical. The patina is made of oil that has been burnt into the pan’s porous surface. It then hardens to become a protective layer. I’ll spare you the ins and outs of the chemical process. Suffice to say it has got something to do with breaking up hydrocarbon chains.
Here’s what you need for seasoning the pan:
- potato peelings (you can use the rest of the potato to christen the pan with rösti)
- vegetable oil.
1. Clean the pan
The pan comes with an anti-rust coating you’ll need to wash off first with a sponge and water.
2. Heat the oil and fry the potato peelings with salt
If I were you at this point, I’d shut the kitchen door, deactivate the smoke alarm and open the window wide. Why? Because there’s going to be a lot of smoke. Now pour oil into the pan until it’s about 2 cm deep. Heat it until the oil starts to smoke. Then add the potato peelings and roughly four tablespoons of salt. Cook until they’re black. And yes, your kitchen should look like it’s been taken over by a shaman conducting a demon-releasing ceremony.
3. Let it cool, clean the pan and enjoy
As soon as the potato peelings are black, remove the pan from the stove and let it cool. Next, dispose of the peelings and the oil and rub the pan clean with a cloth or kitchen towel. And there you have the first patina or seasoning. Now there’s nothing for it but to conjure up some rösti with raclette cheese.
In case you’ve heard of other methods, the potato peeling version is the easiest and fastest way to build up a patina. If you’ve got a whole day spare, you can season the pan by baking it in the oven. To do that you need to preheat the oven at 250 degrees, line a baking tray with aluminium foil, rub linseed oil into the pan and put it in the oven for an hour. And then repeat six times.
This is supposed to create a more solid patina, but in my experience the seasoning builds up anyway with regular use.
Old age care
Cast iron pans are for life, not just for Christmas. If you look after them properly they’re indestructible. The good news is, caring for these pans is actually really easy. All you need to do is rub them with a piece of kitchen roll. Warning: washing-up liquid is to cast iron pans what garlic is to vampires.
Detergent will only damage the seasoning and make the pan rust in no time. That’s why the most you want to do is rinse it with water and finish up by drying it with a clean cloth. If anything burns, rub on some salt to scrub the pan clean. Once it’s completely dry, coat it in olive oil and that’s your pan care done and dusted.
Just a matter of practice
It goes without saying that cast iron pans require patience and practice. They might seem a bit stubborn at first and can take a while to heat up. Initially, meat or rösti appears to stick to the base. That’s where the patience part comes in. Your food will unstick itself as soon as it reaches the same temperature as the pan.
Once you’ve got the knack of cast iron pans, you’ll find they cook stuff much better. No wonder then that I’ve almost always got my Blackstar on the go. Whether I’m serving up fillet, rösti or crêpes, it’s the cast iron pan I reach for. Only when I need something in a jiffy would I grab the old coated steel pans. In fact, the Blackstar is pretty much the star of the show in my kitchen.
CHF 130.–20% discount with voucher code
Black Star (32cm, Cast iron, Frying pan)
Quality - Made in Switzerland.
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